debra l. hegstrom

How Space Defines Place: Gendered Associations and
Societal Expectations in Gustav Stickley's Domestic Program
for the American Home and Family

At the turn of the century in the United States, Gustav Stickley built and promoted an empire based on simple, sturdily-built homes and furniture that manifested what he believed to be the essential qualities of the "good life". His work was a reaction to what he saw as the material excesses of the Victorian age; Stickley proclaimed: "The age of leisure and daintiness, with its slight and delicate belongings, has passed; this is a generation of straightforward utilitarianism, which is well represented by the strong-fibered and sturdy oak."
[1] Stickley's words carried gendered associations; he considered Victorian houses and interiors to be "feminine", while his Craftsman (also called Mission, or Arts and Crafts) homes and furnishings were "masculine" in nature. Stickley's philosophy contained cultural implications [2] that had an impact upon social modes of interaction; it was largely directed at the middle class as the definers and keepers of moral rectitude. A comprehensive program for American family and community life was introduced in his Craftsman magazine and catalogs, which served as influential marketing vehicles for his philosophical and business enterprises. Through Stickley's close editorial direction in the selection of the articles and essays published, he played a significant role in helping disseminate and reinforce a discourse about appropriate male and female roles for almost every aspect of American homemaking, as well as guidelines for the development of the larger sphere of the community.

Stickley's aesthetic was informed by a greater social and cultural context that placed masculine values at the forefront of American society, including the formerly long-held domain of the feminine in the home. To better understand Stickley's place within this context, I have used The Craftsman as the basis for a careful examination of his domestic program.[3] The following central issues have emerged as worthy of further exploration and are the focus of this paper:

1) How did changing gender roles and attitudes toward these roles provide an impetus for changes in family life in the United States?
2) How did Stickley manifest these changes philosophically in his discourse and physically in the design and arrangement of his homes and furnishings?

Changing Gender Roles at the End of the Nineteenth Century
Within a late-nineteenth century environment of accelerated change and economic development (this was the era of the post-Civil War boom), a growing middle class of male, white-collar professionals and managers increasingly worked in the business enterprises of the city, while their wives stayed home and enjoyed the pleasures of domestic life. Contemporary magazines, such as
Godey's Lady's Book (published 1830-1898), and Ladies' Home Journal (began publication in 1883), prescribed the primary task for a woman: her role was to create a private refuge for her husband and children in response to the rigors of the impersonal workplace and the evils of the outside world. An integral part of woman's task was to be the "social conscience" of a nation attempting to shape the character of its people using middle-class concepts of home and family. The taxing struggles of the city and the marketplace needed to be offset by an aesthetic, comfortable, safe, and edifying domestic sphere. The home was the place where both husbands and children assimilated the characteristics necessary to become morally upright, responsible citizens. These values also persisted in Stickley's work; his introduction of The Craftsman in 1901 contributed to the growing literature of domesticity which historian Alan Trachtenberg sees as "part of a concerted middle-class effort to find in culture both pleasure and instruction."[4]

The mid-nineteenth century had seen a fundamental shift in women's relation to the home, as explored by Ann Douglas in her book, The Feminization of American Culture. Once the producer of agrarian and household necessities (such as homespun cloth), the middle-class woman saw the transformation of the site of production to the city and the factory during the Industrial Revolution. No longer reliant on her literally to clothe and feed them, her family now looked to her to provide nurture, rest, and escape.[5] (And all the while she was improving their character as well!) At the end of the century, women rallied for changes that threatened the earlier model. Middle-class "new women" began to reject domesticity and enter the sphere of higher education and public life, challenging masculine control. A subsequent backlash against feminine independence sought to relocate women in the home, calling on natural law and religion to shore-up arguments that their presence in any other arena was unnatural and a threat to society. At the same time, notes Michael Kimmel, the perceived feminization of American culture was met with attempts to dislodge women from maintaining control in the private realm. Women's influence on boys was especially suspect; antifeminists believed their predominance in educating and rearing boys "would lead to the undoing of American masculinity."[6]

This response to the "woman question" reasserted traditional masculinity at a time when "middle-class culture had come to seem stifling, enervating, effeminate, devoid of opportunities for manly heroism."[7] An essential means toward this end was the rejection of urban life, seen as representing "civilization, confinement, and female efforts to domesticate the world."[8] The city, said Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton, turned "robust manly, self-reliant boyhood into a lot of flat chested cigarette smokers with shaky nerves and doubtful vitality."[9] Kenneth Jackson, in Crabgrass Frontier, quotes a 1905 real estate advertisement for suburban homes: "Get your children into the
country. . . . The history of successful men is nearly always the history of country boys."
[10] The quintessential example of manliness was Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), who, as the story goes, was transformed from sickly boyhood to robust manhood by such activities as spending time in a rustic log cabin in the North Dakota Badlands.
Gustav Stickley agreed that the correct American character was formed in a country home, and especially a home that was free from the ostentation and ornamentation characteristic of what he perceived as a degenerate, feminized Old World class structure. Here Stickley is hearkening back to the days of Jeffersonian democracy, promulgated in the mid-nineteenth century by people such as Andrew Jackson Downing in his book,
The Architecture of Country Homes.[11]

Ornamentation and Degeneracy
Stickley correlated ornamentation with degeneracy in an essay entitled "Ornament: Its Use and Its Abuse."
[12] Instead of applying ornamentation to furniture, exposed constructional units, such as the mortise and tenon of a table, which strengthen the framework, could be used to emphasize the overall outlines, as well as embody the morality of the piece. Stickley got this idea from the theoretical writings of the English critic, John Ruskin. Ruskin, in response to what he saw as the abuses of the Industrial Revolution and the machine-made object, stressed the morality of good craftsmanship and the honesty of using natural materials. He, along with his disciple William Morris, advocated a return to the handwork and crafts of the medieval guild system, where the craftsman was responsible for the object from design to completion.[13] In similar fashion, Stickley used the medieval joiner's compass as his symbol, with the slogan "Als ik kan" (translated variously as "As I can", or "The best that I can"). This slogan had been originally used by Flemish painter Jan van Eyck and reimplemented by Morris.

In his essay on ornamentation, Stickley loaded his language with gendered associations: "certain structural forms in cabinet-making refuse ornamentation and are spoiled by it, just as . . . certain strong types of character are made ridiculous in the attempt to soften their austerities by means of social refinement and culture."[14] In comparing various pieces of furniture within the essay, an acceptable chair "puts forth strong, tense arms" (versus the curvilinear, soft arms of one that is unacceptable). Another has a well-defined frame in a "bold, masculine type of design." An unacceptable table is "degenerate" and "barbarous."[15] Sarah Burns explains the American association of degeneracy with the feminine, giving the European artistic aesthete Oscar Wilde as an example (Wilde was highly criticized for his homosexuality in the American press). She uses a cartoon from Harper's New Monthly Magazine (dated 1890) to explain the difference between a well-groomed guardsman and an aesthetic youth resembling Wilde: "The aesthetic youth's body language, curvy and pliant, is deftly played off against the ramrod stiffness of the guardsman, so that they seem to constitute a perfectly calculated binary pair, the one clearly in greater alignment with conventional notions of the feminine than the other."[16]
Stickley was especially critical of French Pearwood furniture, inlaid with mother of pearl, ebony, and ivory (part of a revival of 18th century rococo in France at the time). His review of "A Little Salon for Women", at the Brussels Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1910, proclaimed such furnishings to be based on "the temperament of the woman of the very beginning of this century of limitless luxury and indolence." Their design, colors, and fabrics "cater to the overrefined, oversensitive, and overemotional" French woman, not her more sensible American counterpart. This mode of furniture breeds "an etherealized sensuality which is neither honest nor fearless, formed . . . for the woman . . . to whom the great fundamentals of life are a surprise, a shock." Stickley contrasts the "latest cry" in French furniture with "the growing regard in America for simplicity in furnishing", a matter of national import.
[17] The curvilinear design and fine detail of the French furnishingscontrast sharply with the clean, straight-lined, unembellished pieces of Craftsman furniture from this same period.

A Woman's Place is in the Modern Home
Earlier I mentioned Stickley's belief in the importance of the country home in shaping character. He felt the distractions of the city presented a risk to the welfare of the family. In his model for domestic life, a woman was meant to stay at home in the country and transform its barren spaces into a loving environment. The city offered temptations in the abundance of shiny consumer goods filling the new department stores.
[18] Stickley saw a way to prevent wives and mothers from running into the city for shopping and entertainment by including the comforts and conveniences of modern science in his homes. He subscribes to the current vogue for scientifically-designed kitchens and bathrooms.

It is essential . . . that we employ labor-saving devices for the house as well as for the barns and the fields. Especially is this needed for the woman who now turns in disgust from the overwork and isolation of the country to the city with its artificial amusements. By the use of labor-saving devices, by more scientific methods of housekeeping, by the simplifying of ways of living and thinking, what is now a heartbreaking drudgery can be made a source of joy and pride.[19]

If the house were arranged for maximum efficiency, mothers and daughters (instead of servants) could do the majority of the housework, and "take a genuine and pleasurable interest" in such tasks.

Elizabeth Banks, an American journalist who lived and worked in England, wrote an article about what she considered to be the pathetic state of the American housewife, calling her "The Educated American Drudge" who stays home to keep house. "Were I a painter," said Banks, "I should put a calico dress upon her, tie a gingham apron round her waist, and paint her with an intellectual face, all eager, searching,searching for dust."[20] Stickley printed a response by Elizabeth A. Ward, who chastised the article as "unwarranted, un-American and deserving of sound censure from every thoughtful, high-minded American woman." She heralded the creation of domestic science departments in institutions of learning. To Ward, humble tasks did not hamper woman's higher aspirations; homemaking was "woman's most sacred calling in life" that required "the most thorough equipment the times can afford." Ward admonished mothers who aspired to duties other than the care of their home and children.[21]

Women were to use time freed up from housework because of labor-saving devices; not for the pursuit of social causes or careers, but to make the home more attractive (with craft projects such as needlework, stenciling, weaving, etc.) so that a man would prefer coming home to going to his club or the tavern. Stickley made appropriate patterns available through mail order in his books and magazine; a proliferation of needlework and other handicraft articles show preferred design motifs incorporating dragonflies, gingko leaves, pine cones, poppies, and other plant forms.[22] The modern woman, unlike her Victorian predecessor, was no longer trusted to create the appropriate "artistic environment" based on her own taste; with almost every last detail of a Craftsman home dictated in Stickley's plans, it remained only for her to put on the finishing touches.

Even wall colors were preselected for Craftsman homes: Stickley seems to have agreed with color theories put forth in 1895 by Henry Rutgers Marshall in his book, Aesthetic Principles. Marshall preferred complex, muted tones: such as wood brown, dark russet, or eucalyptus over simpler, brighter hues. Subtle color tonalities were recognized as a mark of high civilization; sharp contrasts and vivid novelties, popular with children and barbarians, were to be avoided as "too stimulating and therefore wearying."[23]
Although Stickley also printed articles about women involved or employed in arts and crafts societies,
[24] most of the images in his magazine show them in typical female domestic activities: cooking, caring for the baby, knitting, and so on. At a time when women were beginning to break down social and economic barriers, the predominant message of The Craftsman maintained and reinforced traditional roles for them as wives, mothers, and homemakers.

Masculine Domesticity and Comfort
Just as women received guidelines for home activities in
The Craftsman, so also were men encouraged to spend less time at work, and more time at home, engaged in home projects. While the Victorian concept of separate spheres was changing through the advocacy of more companionship in marriage[25], it was in another sense maintained through the sexual differentiation of home crafts. Men pursued printing, metalwork, or carpentry projects; women did embroidery, basketry, and rugmaking. Stickley recommended that professional men have a basement workshop as a place to substitute manual for mental labor. "The man who works with his hands at home. . . is a healthier and better balanced man and his interest in his home grows more vivid and personal with every article of furniture that he makes with his own hands and according to his own ideas."[26]

Outside his workshop, the man found another source of rest and relaxation in Stickley's quintessential piece of male furniture, the Morris chair, advisedly located within the male realm of the den. Made of muscular oak and upholstered with Spanish roan leather, its strong lines and substantial cushion made "a big deep chair that means comfort to a tired man when he comes home after the day's work"
[27]. Other appropriate pieces of den furniture were a sturdy rustic settle and a billiards table. Christine Terhune Herrick, in a 1902 magazine article called "Man, the Victim," bemoaned the woman who thinks she has furnished the perfect den, of polished floor, rugs, artistic chairs, and heavy wall hangings: "The whole place has a Turkish effect, and there is a low divan, into which James and his friends sink helplessly, with knees high in air,the while they grope wildly for the cushions they vainly hope may serve as life preservers or give them at least a semblance of stability." Herrick advocates letting a man have a den (with its connotations of a wild animal's lair), not a lady's boudoir; "make it a place where he can lie and growl over his bones when he feels like it." Let him scatter his papers over a big desk, or catch a nap in an armchair when he is weary, but above all, she admonishes wife and noisy children, leave him alone! Her reasoning: "Since he pays for the home and all that therein is, does it seem unreasonable that it should be managed in a fashion that will please him?"[28]

Room for Living
The composition of the American family changed dramatically over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As old forms of labor and community, shared work, and large extended families disappeared, the nuclear family (consisting of mother, father, and children) became the basic domestic unit.
[29] Concerned sociologists blamed urbanization for the breakdown of the family; a smaller, more isolated unit met the demands for occupational and geographic mobility in an industrial society. The ruling classes believed that socialists, feminists and other radicals were undermining the dominant patriarchal model and thereby destroying the time-honored institutions of marriage and family life. These demographic changes led to social and architectural appeals to reclaim family togetherness and unity.[30]

Suburban living, away from the evils of the city, was one solution to keeping the family unit intact. To reinforce the physical relocation of the family, Stickley and other architects of the time created homes that exemplified a shift from the separate spheres and segregated social spaces of the Victorian age. One significant manifestation of new-found togetherness in the home was the substitution of the artistically decorated, formal Victorian hall and parlor with the "living room". Houses, both large and small, began to have more open floor plans with the living room as the center of family life.
In the modern home, room demarcations were indicated by screens, partial partitions, or exposed vertical structural supports and crossbeams. The living room flowed into the dining room, sometimes creating a space that swept all the way from the front door to the back wall of the house. The hearth, complete with poetic expressions carved on the mantelpiece or hood
[31] was placed in the living room as a hub for all family activity. It was a reminder of the values of an earlier agrarian society, where family members gathered together in the evenings for heat and nourishment. When the fireplace was no longer needed as a source for heat and cooking, it remained as a domestic symbol of harmony, nostalgia, and comfort.[32] Even in small homes, Stickley made sure there was a place for the inglenook, complete with benches built into the compressed space.
With the disappearance of the hall, formerly a "holding area" for visitors before they entered farther into the house, first-floor social areas were now directly accessible to them. (They walked right into the living room, or "living hall", as it was sometimes called.) Access to the second floor became more restricted. Separate rooms were established for children, and decorated with child-oriented furniture, wallpaper, and accessories.
[33] These changes did mark one gain for women: husbands and wives now shared their own private space in a less accessible part of the house, as they began to enjoy more togetherness.[34]

In the pages of
The Craftsman, Gustav Stickley introduced a comprehensive program for family life based on a wide range of dwellings--from simple cottages to extravagant mansions--and appropriate furnishings to place in them. Interspersed with the physical designs for living was a myriad of advice articles prescribing the correct behavioral landscape for men and women. Proponents of the type of domestic plan endorsed by Stickley believed it was an antidote to the rapid changes of modern life that affected the way people chose to live. The home was where proper attitudes and activities were formulated; it was the source of the "good life", exemplified in design, furnishings, and craft items that were a reflection of one's appropriate moral and aesthetic ideals. Increasingly, it became desirable to associate the proper environment with a home in the country, tended by a fulltime homemaker, but based on ideals identified as "masculine" in nature.

Within the home, spatial arrangements, furnishings, and decorative accessories all played a role in the careful shaping of the domestic environment to reinforce the shift to masculine values. Stickley, like other men of his time, was reacting to the perceived threat of the feminization of American life. An important component of Stickley's new model for living, reinforced in the discourse of The Craftsman, was to facilitate this shift in family patterns. Ironically, Stickley did not practice what he preached; although he moved his family to Craftsman Farms in rural New Jersey, he preferred for himself a life in New York City, attending theater and the opera, dining in fine restaurants, and hobnobbing with the famous and the wealthy. In 1913 he leased a twelve-story building as his new, posh headquarters on New York's fashionable 39th Street in a shopping district that included Bonwit Teller, Lord and Taylor, and Tiffany's. Besides his furnishings, the building included gardens (complete with grass, flowers, shrubs, and fountains); workshops for demonstrating crafts to the public; offices for his architects and The Craftsman editorial staff; a library and lecture hall; and a restaurant that served wholesome foods. In 1915 his financial obligations could no longer be met, however, and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. By 1917, he no longer had control of any of the assets of his multi-faceted business.

Despite the collapse of his empire, Stickley made a tremendous impact on the physical manifestation of the American home. Even if his houses and furnishings were too expensive for most, a multitude of inexpensive bungalows and cheap copies of his furniture were constructed by other builders and manufacturers (including his own brothers).[35] Stickley's impact on the philosophical front of gender and culture was perhaps greater; it resonated to and reinforced prevailing attitudes about changing domestic and economic roles for men and women. In his eagerness and ambition to remain in step with attitudes that informed the money-making potential of the times, Gustav Stickley played an essential role in designing a new plan for family living. His ideas remained unchallenged long after his Craftsman empire had disappeared from the American landscape.